Revitalization

Oakland's Restored Fox Theater "Worth the Trip"

Posted on: February 10th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments

 

Sign

The sign for the Fox Theater, Oakland.

Oakland, California. San Francisco’s New Jersey, snarky bridge & tunnel references and all. (As a proud Jersey boy, I think I’m allowed to say that.)

Oakland also has to contend with one of the most frequently repeated quotes about an American city -- yes, I’m talking about Gertrude Stein’s observation about Oakland that “there is no there there.”

Ms. Stein was not, as almost everyone assumes, comparing her native Oakland to her adopted Paris and suggesting that Oakland was a podunk town lacking in substance. Rather, the remark stems from a visit she made to Oakland in the 1930s as part of a book tour. While there, she went to visit her childhood home and couldn’t find the house. It’s not a catty quip, it’s a melancholy reflection of a disconnect from childhood memories.

Still, the misunderstanding of the quote stubbornly lives on, as does the latent snobbery toward Oakland that’s just below the surface of many resident’s of “the City” across the bay. Having made my home in San Francisco for 17 years, I’m afraid I’m part of the problem -- I tend to treat the San Francisco Bay crossing as if it were the Straits of Gibraltar rather than the three-mile wide puddle it is. In my defense, I don’t own a car, and I know just a wee bit too much about what could happen to the BART tubes in the Big One to want to make the crossing on a regular basis.

Performers took the stage during the opening.

Performers took the stage during the opening.

But if I’m part of Oakland’s problem and have played my own small role in holding back a long overdue urban renaissance in Downtown Oakland, I’m ready to make amends. Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Grand Opening of the Fox Oakland Theater, and I gotta say, I was blown away. If Oakland too frequently comes up short in head-to-head comparisons with San Francisco, its time to recognize a fundamental fact: Somehow, a profound attack of cultural amnesia allowed San Francisco’s magnificent 1929 Fox Theatre to be demolished just months after its closure in 1963. The Fox Oakland could easily have met the same fate, but Oaklanders never completely gave up on their Fox Theater, which opened the year before the San Francisco Fox and closed thee years after the closure of its sibling across the bay.

The next few decades were not kind to the Fox, but somehow it survived. In 1996, the City of Oakland purchased the Fox. Two years later, recognizing that the Fox was still at risk, the Oakland Heritage Alliance put the Fox on its endangered list, and shortly thereafter spun off the Friends of the Oakland Fox. That same year the City made a commitment to begin repairs, and Jerry Brown was elected Mayor. In a series of acts of faith, pride, and a little bravado, Oakland moved at first haltingly, then full force with the restoration of the Fox. Many organizations and people can claim a role in the rebirth of the Fox, but the support and vision of Mayor Brown and the tireless efforts and sheer exuberance of developer Phil Tagami were key.

The restored ticket booth.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation played its part too. I had the dubious pleasure of touring the theater after its purchase by the City when the roof was shot and it was a petri dish for every mold, mildew, and fungus known to man. Recognizing Oakland had a diamond in the rough, in 2003, we provided a $5,000 Mitchell Grant for Historic Interiors to hire a conservator for the restoration of the Hindu deity statues that are one of the highlights of the interior. Two years ago, we provided a $75,000 grant for the restoration of the Art Deco ticket booth through the American Express Partners in Preservation program. Finally, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC),  in partnership with the Bank of America, made an $11 million Historic Rehab & New Markets Tax Credit Equity Investment in the rehabilitation project.

So, this then, is the tale of two Foxes, or maybe the tortoise and the hare. On the one hand we have San Francisco (a/k/a the hare) which long ago rid itself of an obsolete liability, and left itself with a sad reminder of what we’ve lost in the cruelly-named eyesore that is the Fox Plaza.

The neon-lit lobby of the theater.

The neon-lit lobby of the theater.

Tortoisey Oakland, on the other hand, made no rash decisions. Sure, it took some patience (the Oakland Fox has been closed longer than it was open) but eventually the stars aligned. The results, as I said, are stupendous. I’ve been around preservation long enough to see some remarkable transformations, but this one left me slack-jawed (and no, that wasn’t a result of the freely-flowing champagne).

So San Francisco, you can’t win ‘em all. But take solace in the fact that the best place to see a concert in the Bay Area is just across the Bay. A short ride on BART will deliver you to just about to the Fox ticket booth. Trust me, it’s worth the trip.

-- Anthony Veerkamp

Anthony Veerkamp a senior program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Western Office.

Updated 2/11/09 to note the partnership between NTCIC and Bank of America

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

The Stage is Set for Oakland's Fox Theater to be a Huge Hit

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

If I could somehow pry myself loose from the crush of my current workload and from the marvelous entanglements presented at home by my two small children, I would be on my way from DC to Oakland, California right now. Why? No, not because flying to Oakland is a cheaper way to get to San Francisco. I mean I wish I was in Oakland. At 1807 Telegraph, to be exact. Tonight the Fox Theatre is opening its doors for the first time in forty years. Thanks to a whole lot of dough (including $11.4 million in tax credit equity from our very own National Trust Community Investment Corporation) and a whole lot of courage from a lot of stubborn and resourceful people, this beloved landmark that had been essentially left for dead is no longer playing to a house full of fungi. (I’m not exaggerating: back in the 90s, when the place was long abandoned, the leaky roof let mushrooms take root. Pretty sure they didn’t pay admission.)

Tonight, the Fox will host a grand opening gala event with a program of top-notch performers to celebrate this $70 million achievement. But it’s not the entertainment that has me mentally tallying my frequent flier miles and considering my post-pregnancy wardrobe (neither is very inspiring). It’s the theatre itself, of course. Tonight’s lucky attendees will behold its mystical golden deities, its Art Deco ticket booth (painstakingly restored thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Trust’s joint program with American Express, Partners in Preservation), its opulent dome -- all looking as resplendent as they did on opening night in 1928. This vaudeville theatre defined the glamour of uptown Oakland, where sweethearts could spend a magical evening, where families relaxed together, dazzled by an interior so fine the theatre was originally to be named the Bagdad [sic] — so think Baghdad circa 800 A.D., not 2003. And today’s Fox Oakland is certainly befitting of its glorious past. In addition to becoming a world-class performing arts center, it also now houses a tuition-free public charter school for the arts. So as grand as the Fox was back in 1928, I believe it is even better today.

In its heyday, the theatre drew crowds with it Mighty Wurlitzer organ, live shows and “talkies,” those novel moving pictures with sound. Like most downtown theatres, its demise was hastened by the television and the advent of suburban multiplexes. The theater’s descent was mercilessly slow: it stopped showing first-run films in 1962, briefly dabbled in softcore porn films, was hit by an arsonist in 1973, was threatened with demolition to make way for a parking lot in 1975 -- and of course there was that indignity with the mushrooms.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Spicing Up a Stately Mansion: New Life for a Forgotten Estate

Posted on: December 19th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Photo: Mario Quiroz

Groundbreaking at the mansion. (Photo: Mario Quiroz)

Our colleagues at the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) are celebrating an important milestone in a fantastic project that brings historic preservation, green building and community development together under one roof. For the past years we’ve counseled nonprofit organization CASA de Maryland on how to finance and structure their rehabilitation of a neglected Georgian Revival mansion in Langley Park into a multicultural center for Latino and immigrant populations. Bank of America and Enterprise Community Investment recently closed on a $4 million historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity investment in the project, thanks in large part to the legal and accounting groundwork laid by our tax credit experts.

We have good reason to be a proud partner on this project. Built in 1924, the mansion was originally the centerpiece of a vast estate owned by the family known for McCormick Spices. Decades later, the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion is now at the heart of a bustling community where one hundred languages are spoken at its elementary school and per capita income is just $11,300. CASA de Maryland has already begun work to transform the dilapidated mansion into a vibrant multicultural center that caters to the vast and growing needs of the immigrant and minority communities that surround it.

From its strategic location, CASA will offer skills training, education, and leadership development to increase the self-sufficiency, competency and financial capacity of low-wage Latino and immigrant families locally and statewide. The relocation to the mansion allows CASA to expand its size at a time when demand for its services is at an all-time high. The nonprofit anticipates serving 6,000 to 10,000 individuals and families per year from its new address. The Multicultural Center will also act as an incubator for small nonprofits that support populations not typically served by CASA, including African and Asian immigrants.

We also appreciate CASA’s pursuit of LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Plans include several green roofs, controllable lighting and heating systems, low-emitting materials, water-efficient landscaping and a geothermal HVAC system. CASA plans to expand its community education work to focus on respect for and protection of the environment as well.

Construction is projected to last 12-14 months and CASA anticipates calling the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion home by early 2010.

-- Erica Stewart

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the Community Revitalization department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.